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    « Dispatch from the Philippines | Main | Conversations About the End of Time and The National Gallery of Art – Part 2: Back to the Apocalypse – Jean Delumeau »

    Message From Auckland

    What follows is a short e-mail I wrote to my brother regarding some time I spent in Auckland, New Zealand over the past week.  The message is followed by a slideshow featuring photos of some of the places and things I mentioned in the email, such as the library, books and magazines, and the 100 year-old Tepid Baths – the main swimming pool in downtown Auckland.   Separate blog postings will be provided for the visits I made to the Auckland Botanic Gardens and the island off Auckland called Rangitoto.  In addition to several random shots of the city, the slideshow includes some pictures of the New Jewellry shop on Lorne Street in Auckland, which is run by artist John Walters, who was kind enough to take the time out of his day to explain the jewelry making process and let me take a picture of him at his workbench.  The slideshow also features three pictures of awesome paintings by New Zealand artist Roger Mortimor.  I realize how banal is it to post an email I’ve written to my brother instead of a actual blog post, but in this case I think it works.


    Dear Brother, 

    I hope all is well.  I've been laying low in Auckland for the past few days while my fiancé is at work.  Her employer wanted the kids around for the holidays but they're all going back to Queenstown on Tuesday, when she starts her leave.  At that point we'll do some traveling around the South Island which I'm looking forward to.  That's when the pictures will start rolling in.  So far I've pinned down a constructive routine of going to the library and exercising.  There's an amazing fitness center here in Auckland called Tepid Baths.  It's 100 years old but the pool and gym are modern.  It's $15 USD a day to work-out and swim, so I'll usually swim a mile to loosen up and then hit the weights, mainly dumbbell workouts as well as squats.  There's a hot tub there too but I haven't dipped because I'm not really a hot tub type of guy.    

    The Auckland Library is also fantastic and has an overwhelming amount of good books and magazines.  I always bite off more than I can chew and fail to read the majority of things I take off the shelves, but I make sure to put them back where I found them so as to alleviate work for the librarians.  There's a stack of magazines and some books right beside me as I write these words right now and I haven't even made a dent in them.  Most of the magazines are old New Scientist that I'd like to catch up on, and the other magazines all pertain to New Zealand (one magazine is called Forest and Bird and from what I understand it's all about the state of country's ecosystems, which, according to the magazine, are in alarming decline).  One of the books that I'm not reading is called Natural New Zealand, and it looks really good - you can tell someone really put a lot of work into it.  The other books are called The Water Book (subtitle: The extraordinary story of our most ordinary substance) (just typing that made me thirsty), and Claxton (subtitle: Field Notes from a Small Planet) by Marx Cocker.  I very truly wish I could stick to this routine for a year straight.  That would indeed make me a happy camper, and a much smarter man.

    Having said that, I'll most likely break my routine tomorrow because I want to visit this little island off of Auckland called Rangitoto.  You can get there by ferry and visitors are advised to bring their own food and water because there's no food or fresh water on the island.  

    The other place I want to visit before heading to the South Island is the Auckland Botanic Garden.  Auckland and every other NZ city I've been too is super green because they've built around they trees and hills, instead of leveling and razing them.  I read that from the colonial onset there was a firm understanding and conviction that trees were the "lungs" of the city.  So it's super green and gorgeous everywhere here.   And the trees are huge and sprawling and tropical and beautiful and intricate, kind of like much of the vegetation in Hawaii.  So I want to learn more about them by visiting the Botanic Gardens.   I may even try to do that today. It's located outside of the central city so I'd have to take a bus there, which is fine with me.

    I actually did read some of Natural New Zealand and enjoyed learning this:

             New Zealand's long isolation from other landmasses has resulted in one of the world's highest rates of endemism (species that are unique to a particular area) among its flora and fauna.  According to scientist George Gibbs, in his excellent book Ghost of Gondwana, New Zealand has over 2,000 endemic plant species, some 200 endemic vertebrae species, and, astonishingly, more than 20,000 endemic invertebrate species.  Only Hawaii and the Galapagos Islands can lay claim to such high levels of endemism.

              New Zealand is also home to several biological refugees, including the prehistoric tuatara, unusual frogs that don't croak, accent wrens that are among the most primitive of passerines, and giant weta that have changed little over 200 million years. Some of these life forms survived here long after others of their kind disappeared from the rest of the world.  As a consequence of the geographical isolation, birds like the kiwi evolved from an ancestral group of ratites (I had to look that one up) into the unique creatures they are today.

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